Walk: Sculptor's Cave - dark Moray secrets

Moray | Covesea | Half day walk | ★★★

[Sculptor's Cave]

Severed heads on stakes and an underground pool full of Bronze Age treasure - it sounds a bit like the opening of an Indiana Jones film, not Scotland! "This cave on the Moray coast hides a ghoulish, 3,000-year-old secret", warns Richard Holloway in an old BBC News article about Sculptor's Cave. This temple cave dedicated to dead children is hidden from the Hopeman to Lossiemouth leg of the Moray Coast Trail below tall cliffs, cut off at high tide and inaccessible from directly above. The BBC team reached the cave by boat, while excavators constructed scaffolding down the cliff face here to gain access. For ordinary visitors, it's possible to visit on foot if your arrival coincides with a falling tide. The cave itself is no more interesting than the several others that litter the coastline here, and the severed heads are now gone. Nevertheless, it's a highly atmospheric place if you know the back story. Especially if, as on our visit, someone's placed a skull on a low, table-like rock in the gloom to the rear of the cave... chilling. The interior of the cave is fairly light during daylight, but bring a torch to help make out the detail. There's a clearer guide to reaching the cave at the bottom of this post, as a circular route taking in two possible access routes.

[Looking back along the middle of the walk's shoreline section]

📌 Walk: Sculptor's Cave - dark Moray secrets ★★★
Start / finish at layby on B9040 at junction for Covesea Village, 3 mi west of Lossiemouth, G.R.: NJ 189705 ///wobbling.table.needed

▶ 4 km / 2 mi | ▲ 50 m | ⌚ Half a day | Tough
Features: Sculptor's Cave; Covesea coastline
Terrain: Outward journey across slippery rocks (submerged at high tide), with some easier sections. Return by good coast path, albeit with large rock-cut steps (hands required) to get up to it.

Route & map

Layby - Covesea Village - Sculptor's Cave via shoreline - Covesea Village via old steps & Moray Coast Trail - start

Intro: The cave is correctly shown (and named) on 1:25000 scale OS maps at the back of a small cove at G.R.: NJ 175707. The difficulty comes in accessing the cove: sheer cliffs behind aren't scalable for ordinary mortals and the bay is cut off at high tide. We suggest approaching along the exhausting, slippery shoreline from Covesea, but quickening the way back by using a set of rock-cut steps to access the cliff path. The steps are difficult to spot from above, so we only suggest returning by this route. 2.5 hours before low tide is about the earliest you can set off from the start without later needing to wait to avoid getting wet feet. Too much later and there is a risk of getting stranded at the cave by the next rising tide.

1. From the layby on the B9040, a dirt track gives easy walking towards the coast. After about 500 metres, where the track turns left towards the houses at Covesea Village, continue straight ahead or slightly right down intermittent paths to the shoreline.

2. Head left (west) along the shore. There are 3 or 4 headlands to pass before reaching Sculptor's Cave, each with tedious sections of slippery rocks to negotiate, but with respite on the beaches in between. The scenery throughout is spectacular, with several impressive caves, arches and stacks cut by waves.

3. Before the last headland, look out for a set of steps climbing the low cliff, hewn from the rock during Victorian times. This is the return route, but continue along the shore for now.

4. After a long mile of coastline, Sculptor's Cave is unmistakable. Set above the high tide mark underneath higher cliffs, the cave has two entrances. The right entrance is partially boarded up, while Historic Environment Scotland have added an information board at the left entrance, pointing out Pictish carvings on the cave walls.

5. After exploring the cave, return to the rock-cut steps. Erosion has made climbing onto the first step tricky, but metal stakes help. Above, a steep trod leads up to the main coast path with no difficulties. Turn left (east) to return to Covesea Village and the start.


Route credit: Scotland Off the Beaten Track

On our visit

Wildlife: Fleeting glimpse of an otter playing on the beach below Covesea Village.
Weather: Very strong southerly wind at the exposed start, but sheltered on the beach. Sunny and warm.

Chronological photo guide

[Looking out from one of the tunnel-like, rock-cut arches on the approach to Sculptor's Cave]

[Sea stack on approach to the cave]

[Looking back along the middle of the walk's shoreline section]

[Sculptor's Cave]

[Steps used to ascend the cliff on return]

>> Little bit like this: Wemyss Caves

Comments

  1. I see your blog regularly. Your blog is very useful for us.
    If you are screaming out “Moray” you’ve come to the most elite essay Moray....Click here

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment - glad you're finding it useful, and your website looks great!

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  2. Hi, some great info here. I'm planning to visit, but the route map doesn't seem to load. Any chance this can be updated?
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi sgurr_a, thanks for your comments. Sorry about the route map failing to load - this issue is affecting all of our walk pages at the moment and we're hoping it's a temporary problem with the third party which displays the maps. Please check back later, or feel free to email us (see the About page for contact info) if you'd like us to send you an approximate .gpx file of the route.

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    2. Just an update to say that the map above should now be functional again.

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    3. Brilliant, thanks. This will be one of my first post-lockdown trips.

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    4. Hope you enjoy it - keep an eye on the tides!

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